Mountaineer football fans around the globe are anxiously awaiting the kickoff of the 2005 season. But even the most fired up, anxious, enthusiastic gold and blue zealot probably can't hold a candle to the anticipation being felt by defensive lineman Andrae Wright.

Big ‘Drae, you see, has been waiting for almost four years to show Mountaineer fans what he can do when he's healthy. Originally recruited out of John Shaw High School in Mobile, Ala., after a solid senior season in 2001, Wright assumed he would quickly make his mark on the Mountaineer squad the following season. However, Wright ended up not enrolling at West Virginia in the fall of 2002, and instead sat out the entire year in Mobile. He worked jobs and tried to keep in shape, but that year of inactivity was a difficult one for him.

"That grayshirt year was the toughest time of my life," Wright said as he reflected on the long wait to come to West Virginia. "After being an athlete and playing all my life, I'd wake up that year and be alone. It made me think I might not be able to play football again. My folks and friends told me to keep at it, keep working and don't give up, and O finally got here."

During that season, Wright had to endure numerous questions about his status. More than a few Mobile residents figured that his collegiate opportunity had passed him by. However, the support of his family, which he said, "was a lot of help", kept the talented lineman in the right frame of mind.

Wright made it to West Virginia in the fall of 2003, and although he redshirted that year, did make some noise by winning the Danny van Etten Award as scout team defensive rookie of the year. He admitted, however, that his second consecutive year without game activity was tough to deal with.

"We had no fundamentals in high school," Wright said as he ticked off the differences between Shaw and WVU. "Our weight room was nothing like this. The whole program is different. It was [just a matter] of taking someone with a bunch of raw talent and working with it, bringing it all together. Coach Kirelawich had to break it down before he could build it back up. Coming up here with Kirlav, it was rough at first, but I hung in there and got through it. You have to pick up everything quickly, and it's not an easy thing."

Of course, Wright did that well enough to grab the defensive scout team honors, but he had higher goals than that. His performance on the practice field meant the chance for some real game action in 2004 – a dream that quickly turned into an extension of his non-playing streak.

Preparing for the 2004 season, Wright suffered a stress fracture in his foot, which sidelined him for almost the entire season. Only a few late plays in the Gator Bowl kept him from being shut out for a third year in a row, and that, of course, was a far cry from what he envisioned for himself after his strong showing during his redshirt year.

While some players might have hung it up at that point, or perhaps gotten involved in some off-the-field incident, Wright kept everything on track.

"I've been down a rough road," he said. "I've had my down times, but the coaches told me to keep my head up, and that's what I've been doing. I just worked hard in the weight room and tried to keep the negatives away."

That he managed to do, and after his third fall in the Mountaineer program, he finally appears poised to make a big contribution on the field. A natural run stuffer, Wright also hopes to bring some heat to the West Virginia pass rush. But not matter what happens on the field, just getting there will mark a major milestone in Big Drae's career.

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